ST. LOUIS — $20,000 worth of air conditioning units were stolen last week from St. Alphonsus “Rock” Liguori Catholic Church, a historic Black parish in north St. Louis, according to reports.
The theft is said to have occurred early last week. The units were last seen intact on Monday, April 4th.
Associate pastor Fr Rodney Olive, CSsR says a group of individuals used a ladder to steal the equipment from the church’s roof—itself recently restored following damage from a lightning storm in 2007.
The theft is the second such event to strike the parish since late 2021.
“A couple of months ago, we had all of our cars broken into in the backyard,” Fr Steve Benden, CSsR, who serves as the church’s pastor, told local media.
“It’s just frustrating.”
The 161-year-old parish is located in the predominantly Black neighborhood of Grand Center and was designated a St. Louis City Landmark in 1976—roughly three decades after the parish began a formal outreach to African Americans.
Multiple Black Catholic saints-to-be have passed through its halls over the years, including Venerable Augustus Tolton in 1887—shortly after his ordination as the first openly Black priest in America—and Servant of God Thea Bowman in 1986.
Due to White Flight in the mid-20th century, the church became predominantly Black. It has since become known for its outreach to the poor and underserved, including via its safe haven resources for local families, HIV-AIDS outreach, social justice ministry, food pantry, and local giveaways.
The parish also made local headlines last October when it began raising funds for a rebuild of the historic limestone wall surrounding the property, which had fallen into disrepair.
Costs for that project were estimated at $250,000, compounded now by the cost of new AC units needed before the typically muggy St. Louis summer.
Even so, parish leaders are remaining resilient—and notably optimistic about their neighborhood’s integrity.
“This is a few people who decide to do things like this. This is not the majority of this community,” said Monica Huddleston, the parish’s financial administrator.
“Most of the folks in this community are good hardworking people, some who are down on their luck and just need a little help. And they come here for help and this church gives it to them.”
Those interested in supporting the parish with a donation can do so online or contact the parish for more information.
Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger, a seminarian with the Josephites, and a ThM student with the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA).